The Guitarist

This is a complex chap.

He composes the most beautiful, gentle music.

One can tell from his compositions that he must be the most sensitive soul.

But he has a shadow in his heart.

A terrible rift from years and years ago that has echoed through his life and which sometimes spills out with a  critical cutting edge.

Buried in his world of music making I believe he finds peace…. that, ever beside him, is his true self.

Open and free; soft and rounded, like his music.

I spot him sometimes, but his sharp edges have hurt me and others I love, so I simply make space and hope to be forgiven.

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The French Horn Player

A French Horn

June 16, 2018 By Jenny Quick(Edit)

James comes from a family of distinguished military men.

3 generations.

He tells me that in the marines you break your body.

He is one of the youngest officers because of his leadership qualities.

He is a talented sportsman. Courageous and like a battering ram on the rugby pitch.

He sings like an angel…. the kind of clear youthful voice that brings you to tears.

But James is in a spot of trouble.

His ankles are susceptible to giving way and he has back pain first thing in the morning.

This is much worse when he surfs and he has to sit in an ice bath after long marches with insanely grabby I kit.

He once let slip “it’s never good enough”  and “it’s always my fault ”

He has a very muscle-bound physique. Tight. Bulked up. A thick neck and huge trapezius.

Pulled up at the front and tightly compressed in his lower back.

Standing with his legs wide apart, he tells me, eases his back pain.

I’ve known men like this since they were little boys.

Ruddy and roudy, busting a gut to be the best.

Gentle giants that have a soft centre…. one that is so easily wounded that layers of protection grow in as defence.

His arduous physical training has given him highly toned muscles.

It is these that are “on hold” and to attention for such long hours that his kinaesthetic sense is out of kilter.

He doesn’t know quite how to unwind and relax.

Neither does he realise that his bones could support him with much less muscular effort.

Some simple body mapping and his eyes are wide with sunrise.

His early attempts to get himself right (he is big on trying) bring about another kind of tension to start with.

Chin tucked in, shoulders elevated and in an effort not to lean back he has gone solid around his torso.

We agree that this makes breathing tricky.

A few more weeks.

We cover more ground…. work on allowing softness, fluidity, experimenting with less focus on being right.

He feels “weird” but more comfortable. His back is easier and his shoulders are not so stiff.

It does not feel like playing the horn, but he has noticed that he is faster around the squash court and his reactions are quicker.

He is still a little “held” but he is more aware of how to refresh his balance and his temper is less volatile.

Then one day he moves…. he is almost dancing…. he looks strong AND free.

He blushes a little.

Yes it’s all a bit of a story, but elements of it are about real people with real lives.

Names have been changed.

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The Percussionist

A text comes in

” Tim, we have a concert tonight and one of our percussion crew is sick can you fill in?”

Tim is an accomplished accompanist.

Not so much work these days.

He often wakes with anxiety and struggles to eat breakfast although he rushes out to buy coffee which is when he starts to calm down and face the day.

The last time he joined the percussion was to wield symbols.

He miscounted and where there should have been an almighty clash there was a mortifying quiet.

His alarm system is consistently on amber and frequently spikes into red….. which is where we see him.

Thin, nervy and ready to offer his two quavers at bar 76.

All went well.

He went home and nearly cried with relief.

Months later he was invited back to a more regular position with the orchestra.

In the mean time there has been a transformation.

He is eating and sleeping a little better.

He has become more aware of the strain he was under and has more control over his anxiety.

His parasympathetic nervous system is more balanced and he has discovered that he can trust himself more under pressure.

In the concert hall, he no longer waits with such grim determination and even enjoys being able to hear the music around him…. He pretty much knows his cue by ear and he finds he can count as well as notice the quality of contact with his feet on the floor.

He lets the intimidating looks from the conductor fly past him like a ball he no longer has to catch.

What happened?

A friend suggested he take a class in the Alexander Technique…… obviously!

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Gallery of Musicians. “The Pianist”

Dogged Don has always played the most beautiful music but these days, has mostly forgotten its tender embrace.

In a way he has rather forgotten himself.

Everything has closed him in and although there is rarely a day when he doesn’t play, somehow, over the years, practice has become a chore…. an inescapable routine.

The intimacy which once he felt with Chopin and Debussy and which lit him up from the inside, has dulled.

He finds that he is unexpectedly nervous about playing in public.

His agility and musical sensitivity are not quite at his fingertips and so he has withdrawn from performances. He hasn’t noticed how lonely he has begun to feel.

Or how stooped.

That his shoulders ache.

In fact he is a little numb to himself.

One foot still strays to the leg of the stool; a little reassurance and security, this was how he originally steadied himself when his boy-legs could not yet reach the floor.

One day he hears some Fauré. It is ravishing. He finds the score on his shelves and starts to play.

He feels clumsy and awkward.

He knows what this music could be and the distance he would have to go to raise his aspirations.

So what has this possibly got to do with the Alexander Technique?

Didn’t he just need to sit up straight?

My sense is that he might just want to touch his musical heart.

To notice his longing.

What did he feel like when he played the Schubert…. the Brahms…. the Mozart of his youth?

What was this like?

It felt so still. So peaceful. He was so awake.

There is a wisdom in body memory that sculpts itself into our being but which can become overlaid with coping mechanisms, with effort, with the push and pull of occupational demands.

On the surface, it might look as if Don had decided he needed to sit up a bit.

To do that he would have needed to know where he was coming from…..

Do you know where you are these days?

In the hands of a sensitive Alexander teacher, you may

“re-member” yourself and be surprised.

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Cello by Chance

Many of you who read this blog will know that I love to roam around.

Also, if you have kept up to date, that I purchased a very beautiful cello, named Dulcie (“dolce” in Italian means “sweet”)

I started playing the cello again about 2 years ago as a way to console myself….. my thumb joints had become very painful. So painful that I could not bear to play the piano and truly wondered if I ever would again.

Playing the cello, with all its challenges helped to fill that gap as well as compelling me to take great care not to further injure my hands.

Here is where chance crept in. I began to explore how I could apply the Alexander Technique to my journey as a beginner cellist and by good fortune, these early efforts coincided with some marvelous videos that Jennifer Roig-Francoli (a colleague in USA) was putting up on Facebook.

These were so fascinating that my urgent need to master this difficult instrument and satisfy my hungry ambition in a short space of time abated while I payed attention to the more subtle nuances of how I was managing myself while I played.

Because of my driving nature, it would otherwise have been a very frustrating and demoralising time.

Cello by Chance it has become, for without the necessity of taking a break from the piano, I would not have started playing the cello again (I tried some 17 years ago and gave up because it was too stupidly difficult!) or indeed, found such a fine cello and bow.

Another facet in the realm of chance is that I have taken to driving around with my cello in the car and searching out little churches that are tucked away in quiet corners of the countryside. … or in the right kind of weather, playing outdoors at high points and beauty spots.

These magical occurrences really seem to appear very spontaneously, in a similar way to my bike journey, where pianos showed up all over the place….

I love it that this is another way to go around and make music.

Every now and then somebody passes by and apparently really enjoys the unexpected sound of a cello.

Far more portable than a piano and rather less effort than a bike!

Here are some photos of the beautiful places I have taken Dulcie out.

Apuldram near Chichester.

Sunset and then dawn, high above Blaenavon.

Emborough church near Chew Magna‭. ‬

Glastonbury Tor

Ebbor gorge with Glastonbury Tor in the distance…. This was just magical!

Blagdon water

And finally Langport church, where a couple came in and choose “Jerusalem” as their popular request.

Each place has had a unique quality.

Each interaction with passers by an unexpected delight.

There is some more good news.

Thanks to time away from the piano, Alexander explorations, wonderful care from osteopath, Vicky Latchem and maybe a hint of common sense, my thumbs are very much improved…. buttons, page turning, holding a pencil, turning a key etc… all nearly as good as new!

Here’s to more adventures with Dulcie!

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A Child’s Voice

In a box in the loft 400 girls in a tight scroll, yellowed and thumbed at the corners.
Open it up and it whips back shut. Snaps at your fingers like a nasty little dog.
Your little furrowed brow in a face-full of spectacles on the end of the second row.
That one there, she spat on my specs on the way to the festival hall and Phyliss Sellick came out in blue crépe de chine and played Schuman’s piano concerto and I cried.
I was nearly sick on the coach on the way back, I didn’t want to go back and she sat on my hat and pretended to wipe her arse with it. She’s there on the front row. I threw her over my shoulder in judo in lower 5a but I couldn’t get Sarah down, she was too tall. She had dental braces and bits of white got stuck in the bands.
I could wipe them all out. Blot them out. Paint over their faces. Screw up my face tight so I can’t see them.
But they wont go. Eyes noses mouths pushing up through the paint. We’re suffocating too. Look at me look at me. Hair torn out, nails chewed, anorexic. Look. Don’t leave us here. Please don’t leave us here.
All those little girls growing good and bad and shredded and obscenely successful and hidden behind doors. Rolled up in their lofts and out of sight out of mind. Out of our minds.
But open the roll and we’ll snap shut snap at you or tear at your heart or abandon you and you’ll never know why. Or we will stand on a podium and tell you what’s good for you and that education is a privilege and it never did us any harm oh no.
Do you remember Flo? She went out of her mind and the teacher said she’d never make anything of herself. She had PTSD for 3 years after she left. And Ginny-cardboard-tights is still in a mental home. 

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